Menu Icon

Cambridge Invents ... ARM processor

Collusion's interview with one of the inventors of the ARM processor, Sophie Wilson

Do you know that the ARM processor is used in 95% of smart phones, 80% of digital cameras and 35% of all electronic devices worldwide?

The first ARM processor - the ARM 1 - was launched in April 1985 starting a journey that has made the ARM chip an essential part of the digital revolution. Its low power RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) design has fuelled the growth of portable, battery powered technology such as the iPad and today there are in excess of 50 billion chips in the world based on the ARM design. That’s about seven for every living person!

The ARM processor was originally developed by Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber at Acorn Computers to use in Acorn’s personal computers.  In 1983, they were looking for a more powerful processor but couldn’t find anything suitable on the market so decided to create their own based on early research into RISC architecture.  The chip was a success, and in 1992, won the Queen's Award for Technology. It was launched as part of the Acorn Archimedes computer in 1987 but the company was struggling, as competition increased in the personal computer market. 

In 1990, Acorn set up the design team for the ARM Chip as a new company, renamed ARM Holdings when it floated on the stock exchange in 1998. The genius decision made by the new company was that, rather than producing and selling the processors directly, they decided that would instead sell the design and the ARM instruction set architectures to third parties under license and offer consultancy support. As a result ARM is a FTSE 100 company earning revenue of nearly £715 million in 2013 based in the sale of intellectual property (IP). 

An early adopter was Apple, who worked with ARM on the ARM 6, using it in their first portable device, the Apple Newton PDA. SInce then ARM processors have been used in many of our now essential portable devices, including Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod, Microsoft Surface, Nintendo DS, Tom Tom sat navs, Raspberry Pis, Samsung’s S5 smartphone and Galaxy Gear smartwatch. In fact, most portable devices have several ARM chips in them operating bluetooth, wifi and other services. 

The ARM processor is powering the world’s mobile devices and it all started here in Cambridge in 1983.

Press play above to hear more from Sophie about the ARM processor.

Back to Cambridge Invents list of inventions.